RSPB Scotland has objected to an application to allow ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth. The application was made by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Conservation policy officer Richard Evans said: "In our opinion the application is quite inadequate and completely fails to show how the possible impacts of oil transfers are to be avoided in such a sensitive area. It is a huge concern and the risks are far too high."
Mr Evans highlighted the importance of the Moray Firth for Scotland's marine wildlife.
"The firth has internationally important populations of seabirds. Thousands of birds spend the winter months sheltering along the coast and the intertidal mudflats are enormously important for the rich feeding grounds they provide for wildfowl and wading birds. This area is also very important for the famous bottle-nosed dolphins that attract so many visitors to this part of Scotland."
Mr Evans continued: "We simply must see some proper risk assessments so that this application can be properly judged. This must include an honest appraisal of the effects of noise, oil spill risk and ballast water impacts on the environment and explain clearly how all of the different measures proposed as mitigation might actually work."
The Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA) has applied to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) for an "oil transfer licence" under the Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Oil transfers) Regulations 2010. The licence would apply to a location just outside the mouth of the Cromarty Firth itself, but within CFPA harbour waters. If granted, the licence would allow CFPA to oversee ship-to-ship transfers at the new location. Schedules 1 and 2 of the regulations require MCA to apply a similar level of environmental scrutiny to the licence request as that given to most other types of development by other consenting bodies, including local authorities and arms of government.
Ship-to-ship transfers are classed by government as "shipping", and thus "reserved" to Westminster under Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998. Responsibility for issuing oil transfer licences ultimately rests with the Secretary of State for Transport, with the licensing process the responsibility of MCA, which is an agency of the UK Department for Transport.